Queen Mary’s Big Belly: Hope for an heir in Catholic England

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COMPOSERS: Lasso,Mundy,Newman & anon,Sheppard,Tallis,Tye,Wilder
LABELS: Signum Classics
ALBUM TITLE: Queen Mary’s Big Belly: Hope for an heir in Catholic England
WORKS: Works by Sheppard, Tallis, Wilder, Lasso, Mundy, Tye, Newman & anon
PERFORMER: Gallicantus/Gabriel Crouch; Elizabeth Kenny (lute)


On 30 April 1555 a rumour circulated in London that the Catholic Queen Mary had given birth to a male successor; a day later it transpired that the rumour was unfounded. Around this ‘phantom pregnancy’ Gabriel Crouch has constructed a programme of music, mischievously titled ‘Queen Mary’s Big Belly’. Some of the pieces have fairly nebulous connections to that non-event, but no matter: the performances are uniformly excellent.

Up to seven voices are used, all male except for soprano Zoë Brookshaw, who soars above the welling lower textures of Tye’s seven-part motet Peccavimus cum patribus, in a performance which builds in its final paragraph to an ardent conclusion. On a smaller scale, telling glimpses of mid-16th century melancholia are provided in two interludes where lutenist Elizabeth Kenny accompanies songs by Tallis and Sheppard. Alto Mark Chambers’s sweetly fluid account, with Kenny, of Tallis’s When shall my sorrowful sighing slake, is a standout moment. So too is the concluding Vain, all our life, the four voices plangently balanced, gently tracking the sorrowfully interleaving pulses of Sheppard’s part-writing.

Scholars will be interested in two reconstructions – one (by Jason Smart) of a Litany using a text from the time of Mary’s non-pregnancy, the other a combination of Sheppard’s psalm setting Deus misereatur with an appropriate antiphon. The Litany in particular is beautifully sung, and is one of many moments which make this imaginative, informatively annotated programme worth investigating.


Terry Blain